Flying into Port au Prince, Haiti looked beautiful from the air. The mountains come right up to the sea, the water is clear and aquamarine blue. The houses seem quaint and orderly, in rows, and the roads just like any other country roads. It wasn’t until we touched down, and I saw the airport buildings up close, and then the immigration area, and then the baggage claim, that the reality became apparent. Discarded metal, and whole pieces of walls, cargo containers, baggage trailers, and just plain trash lined the sides of the airport. The inside of the airport, in spite of a few fans, was oppressively hot. Everyone moved slowly, and the search for your baggage was just that, a search. Bags were everywhere, since many of the relief agencies bring their supplies with them. I sat next to a physician on the plane who had brought 21 large duffel bags of supplies- portable IVs, drugs, surgery equipment, all on the plane.
Once outside, there waited a sea of blue shirted Haitians hoping to give you a ride to wherever you wanted to go. Not finding any of them holding a sign up with my name on it, I asked a kindly older woman to help me choose one. She approached an older man, nicely dressed, who brought me to the hotel and has become our driver for the last 2 days.
We spent Sunday driving to some appointments at different clinics and just getting familiar with what is going on here. It is a lot to take in, and best taken in slowly, in spurts as there is not much to be hopeful about here, except perhaps in the spirit of the Haitian people. In spite of the awful conditions they live in, you rarely see anyone poorly dressed, their crisp white clothes are not even dirty, their shoes are shined, hair combed, and the men are perfectly shaven with recent haircuts as well. How do they do it when they live in a tent, with no bathrooms, only port-a-lets, bathing in small plastic tubs, washing their clothes by hand amongst the dirt and dust of the whole city. Just the amount of rubble still left is enough to get you discouraged.
It is difficult to even begin to list the number of things that need to be fixed here, but we did discover one thing that is working well. And that is what I will talk about here – we are starting a clinic at St. Vincent’s School for handicapped children. A truly wonderful place in the midst of all this chaos. It houses about 40 children right now, many more before the earthquake, and runs a school with about 60 children, all physically handicapped in some way. The place is clean, the kids are happy, well fed and groomed. The school is functioning, I spoke with a group of young men who were discussing history and philosophy with me! So we will spend part of the time treating the kids who are there, then the staff, and then on Friday we will be opening up the clinic to whomever they bring in from the tent camps. We are very excited to get started, and I will write a bit each day about our experiences.
Today we are visiting the director of 3 hospitals in Port au Prince who is interested in working with us. We believe it would be more of a teaching opportunity, but may also include some clinic work. He is well connected here in Haiti, so it is a good chance to get into the system.
As far as the personal side of things, I can’t really convey to you all how it is here, pictures would do a better job. It rained the first few days, which kept things cooler, yesterday there was no afternoon rain, and the temperature was above 100 deg F. We spend 2 hours in traffic getting to a tent camp to meet with the committee who runs the camp. No one speaks much English, so my French has had to suffice, so I have had a lot of practice. Most people speak French and Creole, which are different enough that it makes it hard for me to understand the Creole.
Unfortunately I cannot upload any of the pictures yet, but I will keep trying. Au revoir , A Demain!